Kalpana Kotagal is a Partner at Cohen Milstein, a member of the firm’s Civil Rights & Employment practice group, and Chair of the firm’s Hiring and Diversity Committee. Ms. Kotagal plays an active role in the investigation and development of new matters for the Civil Rights & Employment practice group.
Ms. Kotagal is co-author of the "Inclusion Rider," referenced by Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand in her 2018 Best Actress acceptance speech. The Inclusion Rider has since been adopted by leaders across industries, including the Recording Academy, which announced the use of the Inclusion Rider in the production of the 2022 GRAMMY Awards, as well as JAMS, which included an Inclusion Rider option in its JAMS Domestic and International Clause Workbooks.
A highly-acclaimed employment and civil rights plaintiffs’ litigator, Ms. Kotagal represents women and other disenfranchised people in employment and civil rights class actions, involving often cutting-edge issues related to the Title VII, Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Medical Leave Act, as well as wage and hour issues.
Ms. Kotagal leads or plays a leading role in the following high-profile matters:
- Jock, et al. v. Sterling Jewelers Inc. (A.A.A.; S.D.N.Y.): Cohen Milstein represents a putative class of more than 69,000 female employees of Sterling Jewelers, one of the nation's largest jewelry chains, in a nationwide Title VII gender discrimination and Equal Pay Act case. Plaintiffs claim they were subjected to a pattern of pay and promotions discrimination.
- Allen, et al. v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC (N.D. Ga.): Cohen Milstein and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project represent former AT&T Mobility sales representatives in a novel pregnancy discrimination class action alleging that AT&T Mobility’s “point” system for tardiness or absenteeism violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Family and Medical Leave Act, among others.
- Center for Reproductive Rights v. Department of Health and Human Services (D.D.C.): Cohen Milstein represents the CRR in FOIA litigation against the HHS, in which CRR seeks budget and staffing documents of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the HHS’s Office for Civil Rights and information related to HHS’s use of HIPAA enforcement funds under the Trump Administration.
Ms. Kotagal’s past successes include:
- The Inclusion Rider: A contractual addendum made famous by Frances McDormand in her 2018 Best Actress Oscar Awards speech that enables famous actors, directors, and other A-Listers to stipulate in their employment contracts that studios ensure representation of minorities in the auditions for film or television projects and track such initiatives to ensure the film reflects the world in which we actually live, while protecting creative sovereignty. In August 2021, the Recording Academy announced that it would use the Inclusion Rider in the production of the 2022 GRAMMY Awards.
- Gender-Affirming Surgery Coverage by Aetna: With the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Ms. Kotagal led a pivotal access-to-healthcare class action on behalf of four transgender women. On January 26, 2021, Aetna, one of the largest health insurance companies in the United States, agreed to expand its coverage to include gender-affirming surgery, including, in this matter, breast augmentation. As a part of the pre-litigation agreement, TLDEF and Ms. Kotagal worked with Aetna to update its clinical policy bulletin to cover such medically necessary surgery for transfeminine members.
- Sutton v. McCoy (N.D. Ga.): Cohen Milstein and the ACLU successfully represented a plaintiff in a race-based Fair Housing Act discrimination lawsuit, where the plaintiff claimed she was unjustly evicted for inviting an African-American family to her home. On February 13, 2020, in exchange for dismissing the case, the landlords admitted to their discriminatory actions and making racist statements in violation of the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act, apologized for the harm they caused, and paid restitution.
- Hill, et. al v. Donohue, United States Postal Service (E.D.N.Y.): Ms. Kotagal represented a class of disabled veteran job applicants, who alleged the U.S. Postal Service illegally required pre-offer medical inquiries during their application process. The case, which settled for $9.58 million, resulted in USPS’s agreeing to implement changes in its practices to prevent similar violations in the future.
- Aaron v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. (W.D. Ark.): Ms. Kotagal represented 8,000 workers in 11 states in a wage and hour lawsuit, in which the workers sought redress for unpaid overtime. The $10 million settlement allowed class members to recover about 85% of the back pay owed them.
- Nurse Wages Matters: Cohen Milstein represented nurses in several antitrust cases, contending that hospitals conspired to suppress and fix wages of nurses.
Ms. Kotagal played an instrumental role in representing Wal-Mart employees in Dukes v. Walmart (N.D. Cal.), nationwide class action consisting of approximately 1.5 million women who worked or had worked in Walmart’s 3,400 stores nationwide. The landmark case, which was eventually heard by the Supreme Court, addressed standards for class certification in employment discrimination matters.
For her work on the Inclusion Rider and her other efforts in championing equity, diversity, and inclusion through her practice of law, Ms. Kotagal has received numerous industry recognitions, including being listed in Lawdragon’s “500 Leading Lawyers in America” (2019-- 2021), named Law360’s “Employment – MVP” (2018), recognizing the top five most influential employment lawyers in the United States, named one of The National Law Journal’s “Elite Women of the Plaintiffs Bar”(2018), and receiving Chambers Women in Law: USA 2018, “Outstanding Contribution to the Community in Advancing Diversity” Award, as well as “The Work & Family Legal Center’s Distinguished Public Service Award” from A Better Balance. In 2017, Ms. Kotagal was also recognized by Law360 as a “Rising Star,” an annual list recognizing lawyers under the age of 40 whose professional accomplishments transcend their age.
A noted public speaker, Ms. Kotagal is a leading voice in the national conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as issues related to class actions and mandatory arbitration. She speaks to a wide range of audiences, including the American Constitution Society, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, the Impact Fund, the National Employment Lawyers Association, TEDxLinz, among many others. Ms. Kotagal has also had the honor of delivering the commencement address to the graduating classes of University of Pennsylvania Law School (2019) and the University of California, Irvine School of Law (2018). A Harvard Law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow, Ms. Kotagal frequently speaks to law students and new lawyers about public interest law.
Ms. Kotagal is a prolific writer. Her recent Op-Eds include: “We Created Hollywood’s New Inclusion Rider — Here’s Why It’s Just the Beginning,” Refinery 29 (May 24, 2021); “Inclusion Rider Work Must Continue in Hollywood and Beyond,” Law360, February 21, 2019; “Push for Diversity in Hollywood Paves Path for Rest of America,” The Hill, March 28, 2018; “The ‘Inclusion Rider’ Should Be a Hollywood Standard,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2018; “Your Thoughts: Can Trump Ban Transgender from the US Military?” Lawyer Monthly, August 08, 2017, and “The Need for Female Equality and Diversity in Hollywood,” Variety, February 23, 2017 (Co-Authored with Cohen Milstein’s Anita Hill).
Alongside, Ms. Hill, Ms. Kotagal was a featured legal commentator, “This Changes Everything: An Examination of Sexism in Hollywood,” a documentary addressing gender discrimination in Hollywood, co-produced with Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (January 17, 2019).
Ms. Kotagal is also actively involved in several national organizations, including serving as Co-Chair of the Alumni Advisory Board on Inclusion and Engagement for the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a member of the board of directors of Public Justice and A Better Balance. She is on the Advisory Board of the People’s Parity Project and is a member of American Constitution Society Task Force on #MeToo in the Legal Profession and co-chairs the Alumni Advisory Board for Equity and Inclusion at Penn Law. She has also served as a member of the Center for Worklife Law’s Working Group on Pregnancy Accommodation and the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA).
Ms. Kotagal brings to her litigation practice her experience as an organizer, having previously served as field organizer with Green Corps, a field director with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and as an advisor to a Congressional candidate. Ms. Kotagal also served as an honorary chair of the National Finance Committee of Young Lawyers for Obama in 2008. She is the immediate past chair of the governance committee of the Board of Directors of CISV USA, an international youth-empowerment and peace education organization with more than 20 chapters in the United States.
Prior to joining Cohen Milstein, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher of United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Ms. Kotagal attended Stanford University, where she was a Morris K. Udall Scholar and graduated with honors. She earned her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a James Wilson Fellow. Ms. Kotagal was Articles Editor of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
- Co-Chair, Alumni Advisory Board on Inclusion and Engagement, University of Pennsylvania Law School
- Member, Board of Directors, Public Justice
- Member, Board of Directors, A Better Balance
- Member, Board of Advisors, People’s Parity Project
- Member, Board of Advisors, USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism' Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
- Member, Task Force on #MeToo in the Legal Profession, American Constitution Society
- Member, Dean’s Council, Penn Law Women at the University of Pennsylvania
- Immediate Past Co-Chair, Labor & Employment Section, Standing Committee on Class Actions, District of Columbia Bar
- Immediate Past-Chair, Board Governance Committee for the Board of Directors, Children's International Summer Villages, USA
- Member, National Employment Lawyers Association
- Member, Center for WorkLife Law Working Group on Pregnancy Accommodation
- Honorary Chair, Young Lawyers for Obama, National Finance Committee (2008)
- Advisor, Darcy Burner for Congress, Washington’s 8th District (2006)